Full Tilt Boogie (1997) – Retrospective Documentary Review

Full Tilt Boogie (1997)Two years after the fact, this documentary about the making of FROM DUSK TILL DAWN reaches screens, and what an amusing account it is. Much of it is off-the-cuff and entertaining, but some parts have also clearly been staged for the benefit of the documentary, particularly the hilarious opening, wherein George Clooney and Quentin Tarantino are unable to find their way to the set.
If you’re interested in the behind-the-scenes travails of film-making, you’ll get them in spades, but don’t expect any serious dissection of the film at hand; in fact, there is not so much as an explanation for why this particular film was deemed worthy of being documented. And since the focus is on production, the disappointing reaction the film received (especially after the hoopla surrounding its collaboration between Tarantino and director Robert Rodriguez) is not even mentioned.
Perhaps the most interesting moment (which is merely presented, without comment, by the film)is Tarantino and Rodriguez’s insistence, in an early double interview to promote the project before filming began, that the script gives you a chance to care about the characters by spending time with them before introducing the horror element in the last half. No one stops to wonder whether an hour in the company of two violent criminals, one a psychotic sex killer, is really enough to endear us to characters whom we would much rather have seen dispatched by the vampires in the first fifteen minutes.
Ultimately, the best thing about this film is that, by incorporating most of the best footage from its subject, becomes a more than adequate replacement for FROM DUSK TILL DAWN. Now, you can now see your favorite parts, without having to sit through the whole movie again.
FULL TILT BOOGIE(1997). Directed by Sarah Kelly. With: Quentin Tarantino, George Clooney, Harvey Keitel, Juliette Lewis, Fred Williamson, Gregory Nicotero.

Event Horizon – Now on Blu-ray

Here is a major studio film, with a substantial budget for high-quality produciton value, that somehow manages to look little better than low-budget Roger Corman productions like BATTLE BEYOND THE STARS. Part of the problem rests with the 1990s obsession with computer-generated imagery. The anti-gravity effects achieved with this technique may be eye-catching, but they are never convincing. They are too glossy and shimmery, like a hyper-real cartoon; they might work in a fantasy or surreal context, but in this supposedly high-tech science-fiction environment, they are out of place.
An even bigger part of the problem rests with an overall lack of vision. Director Paul Anderson shoots things to look cool, and he sometimes achieves this, but he has no grasp on how to modulate the visuals to carry the audience gradually into the deepening nightmare of the plot and the increasingly dire straights of the characters. Ultimately, Anderson’s work is functionally competent, in terms of getting the camera coverage to to tell the story, but he is unable to elevate a story barely worth telling.
This is best exemplified by the scene in which Justin (Jack Noseworthy) suffers the horrible fate of having his eyes explode in the vacuum of outer space. Anderson captures the splattering aqueous humour in loving close-up, but not for a moment does the imagery impact the audience as anything more than gratuitous gore. Anderson does not make you feel scared, nor are you emotionally battered by the tragedy of a character suddenly struck blind. It is simply an “ain’t it cool” moment intended to send the gore-hounds into paroxysms of joy.
The script posits the notion that the lost ship Event Horizon may have gone to Hell and back while making a faster-than-light jump into hyper space. Apparently, it brought back some of the Evil with it, or at least some kind of malicious alien intelligence inhabiting the ship as a whole. But this is about as far as it gets in exploring the premise, which turns out to be just a lip-service explanation to justify killing off most of the crew of the Lewis and Clark rescue ship.
Also suggested is the idea that the horrible visions plaguing the rescue crew are not supernatural events but hallucinations dredged up from the subconscious by the ship. This would be fine if the characters’ inner neurosis were developed with any kind of depth, but a very strong cast is left playing the most undefined of characters; in fact, they are so undifferentiated that you almost wish the script had resorted to cliched stereotypes just to distinguish them from each other.
Ultimately, the idea of astroanuts plagued by physical manifestations of their inner demons was handled better in producer Roger Corman’s GALAXY OF TERRORS. And while we’re noting similarities with other films, did we really need a an amalgam of the above-mentioned titles, along with THE BLACK HOLE, SOLARIS, and THE SHINING?


EVENT HORIZON has been released on disc several times. The December 30, 2003 release on Blu-ray includes bonus features previously available on DVD: a commentary track with director Anderson and producer Jeremy Bolt, plus several featurettes.
EVENT HORIZON (1997). Directed by Paul W. S. Anderson. Written by Philip Eisner. Cast: Laurence Fishburne, sam Neill, Kathleen Quinlan, Joely Richardson, Richard T. Jones. jack Noseworthy, Jason Isaacs, Sean Pertwee.

Copyright 1997 Steve Biodrowski. This review originally appeared, in slightly different form, in Cinefantastique magazine.

Alien: Resurrection (1997)

An interesting if ultimately unsatisfying attemp to extend the franchise

By Steve Biodorwski

After the disappointing ALIEN 3, this fourth film in the franchise represents a marked improvement, but it fails to match the level established in the first two films. The premise is interesting, and the visuals are entertaining, yet somehow the film never quite gells. Still, you have to give points to everyone involved for trying so hard.
Part of the problem is that, with familiarity setting in, what once seemed “alien” now seems almost ordinary, making it difficult if not imposible for this third sequel to ratchet up the level of dread that marked Ridley Scott’s original ALIEN. Of course, the other obvious hurdle is that the previous film killed off the lead character, Ripley (Sigourney Weaver), and any attempt to bring her back was bound to feel like a phony Hollywood contrivance. Continue reading “Alien: Resurrection (1997)”

I Know What You Did Last Summer (1997) – Film Review

click to purchas I KNOW WHAT YOU DID LAST SUMMER By Anthony Montesano

By the late 1980s, the slasher genre had run out of blood. It had its roots in Alfred Hitchcock’s PSYCHO (1960) and really got going with the release of John Carpenter’s HALLOWEEN (1978) and FRIDAY THE 13TH (1980). But endless sequels and rip-offs (PROM NIGHT, APRIL FOOL’S DAY, etc) churned out all-too-familiar stories, offering nothing fresh or innovative. By the 1990s, the sub-genre had all but died and was regulated to direct-to-video trash. In 1996, director Wes Craven and screenwriter Kevin Williamson took a smart, tongue-in-cheek look at the form with SCREAM, which changed all that and gave the genre its first $100 million hit. Following on the heels of that crossover success, Williamson has teamed with director Jim Gillespie and mined a Lois Duncan novel to create I KNOW WHAT YOU DID LAST SUMMER. Continue reading “I Know What You Did Last Summer (1997) – Film Review”

Interview: Barry Gifford Deciphers David Lynch's Labyrinthine "Lost Highway"

gifford3.jpgDavid Lynch has often been quoted describing ERASERHEAD as “a dream of dark and troubling things.” Since that 1978 debut, he has gone on to adapt his dream-like sensibility to far more accessible narrative structures. No matter how arresting the imagery is in The Elephant Man and Dune, and no matter how weird things get in Blue Velvet or Twin Peaks, the audience basically knows who’s who and what’s happening. In Wild at Heart, Lynch even took a story, from a novel by Barry Gifford, and managed to graft on surreal images without ever quite losing the thread of the main narrative, the “story of Sailor and Lula” (as the book is subtitled).
LOST HIGHWAY, co-written by Gifford, seems to take a similar approach at first with Robert Blake’s Mystery Man intruding upon the otherwise normal, if not altogether happy, life of Bill Pullman’s Fred Madison. But when Madison, imprisoned for the murder of his wife, Rene, metamorphoses into a new character (Balthazar Getty) and then meets Alice, a blonde doppelganger of Rene (both played by Patricia Arquette), the story begins to spin beyond any kind of rational understanding on the part of viewers, who no longer know who’s who or what’s happening.
Many viewers (including critics like Roger Ebert) did not understand what had been sprung on them. “In fact, both Lynch and I thought it was a very easy story to understand and that it made perfect sense,” Gifford claimed. “I think David, especially, was upset by the fact that so many people seemed to have a problem understanding it, saying ‘Oh, this is nonsense. These guys are just being perverse on purpose.’ That was the conclusion of a lot of people, especially people who only saw the movie once, or were pushed out of shape by what they thought was our fucking with their heads.”
Lynch himself has no desire to enlighten viewers via interviews; he wants them to take their own meaning from what they see on the screen. Gifford, on the other hand, is not so reluctant to discuss his intentions. So what is his explanation for the strange narrative?
The answer, of course, depends on the question, and the question that Lynch originally posed, as Gifford recalls, was: “What if one person woke up one day and was another person?” Gifford said, “We had to create a scenario to make that plausible.”
To explain the film’s labyrinth logic, Gifford points to a psychological condition in which a person invents a new identity for himself. “We discovered a clinical, psychological condition which fit our premise a ‘psychogenic fugue,’” said Gifford. “It’s as if you decided to change your life and showed up with a different name and entirely created a new identity for yourself and really grew to believe you were this new person. There are different kinds of fugue states, and a psychogenic fugue takes place only in your own mind you don’t really go anywhere. It’s a mental fugue, for lack of a better term. This was something I researched with a clinical psychiatrist at Stanford, so we had some basis in fact here. After we found that freedom, more or less it was just a matter of creating this surreal, fantastic world that Fred Madison lives in when he becomes Pete Drayton.”
This explains how Fred Madison, locked in a prison cell, awaiting execution, transforms into a new character with his own past history. “It’s as if you decided to change your life and showed up with a different name and entirely created a new identify for yourself and really grew to believe you were this new person,” said Gifford. “It’s a mental fugue, for lack of a better term. The basic thing I can tell you is that Fred Madison creates this counter world and goes into it, because the crime he has committed is so terrible that he can’t face it.”
The fugue is a kind of escape that Madison ultimately cannot maintain, because unpleasant reality keeps impinging on it. “The fugue state allows him to create a fantasy world, but within this fantasy world, the same problems occur,” said Gifford. “In other words, he’s no better at maintaining this relationship, dealing with or controlling this woman, than he was in real life. This woman isn’t who he thinks she is, really, so all the so-called facts of his known life with Renee pop up again in Alice Wakefield.”
In this interpretation, the appearance of the Mystery Man is the first hint of the psychotic break that Madison will eventually suffer. “He’s a product of Fred’s imagination too,” said Gifford. “I think the phone call scene at the party is pretty interesting. A lot of work went into it. It’s supposed to be seamless; it’s supposed to look easy and sound normal. But there’s a lot that goes into writing this kind of thing. It’s the first visible manifestation of Fred’s madness. No one else can see the Mystery Man.”
Director David Lynch, on the other hand, prefers not to provide pat answers to the many questions raised by the script’s convoluted narrative contortions. “Barry may have his idea of what the film means,” said the director, “and I may have my own idea, and they may be two different things. And yet, we worked together on the same film. The beauty of a film that is more abstract is everybody has a different take. Nobody agrees on anything in the world today. When you are spoon-fed a film, more people instantly know what it is. I love things that leave room to dream and are open to various interpretations. It’s a beautiful thing. It doesn’t do any good for Barry to say, ‘This is what it means.’ Film is what it means. If Barry or anyone else could capture what the film is in words, then that’s poetry.”
In his own defense, Gifford responds, “In fact, I never told people what it meant. I did mention this business about psychogenic fugue, as did David, in many interviews. We did agree that we would never explain the film, and we haven’t, to my knowledge. It’s for each person to make up his own mind about it. He’s absolutely right, except that that phrase was in fact used in the promotion in the film, so I wasn’t talking out of school.”
Lynch, for his part, insisted he was not playing fair with the audience, providing the necessary material for them to make their own interpretations, not just generating random images. “There is a key in the film as to its meaning,” said the director. “But keys are weird. There are surface keys, and there are deeper keys. Intellectual thinking leaves you high and dry sometimes. Intuitive thinking where you get a marriage of feelings and intellect lets you feel the answers, where you may not be able to articulate them. Those kinds of things are used in life a lot, but we don’t use them too much in cinema. There are films that stay more on the surface, and there’s no problem interpreting their meaning.”
So, has the mystery (not to mention the Mystery Man) been explained away? Well, the film is consistent with this reading; however, it does not go out of its way to tip audiences off to this interpretation. For example, there is no obvious stylistic shift when Madison enters the fantasy world of Pete Drayton; if anything, the narrative and visual are more concrete at least until the alternate reality starts to break down again. “If you read the screenplay, it’s easier to see,” said Gifford. “I suppose you could have gone into black and white just as if, on the page, we could have gone to different type, like italics.”
To grasp Gifford’s take on the story requires, perhaps, a second viewing. “I agree, because there’s so much menace the first time you see it,” said the writer. “I don’t know how you felt, and it’s hard for me or David to talk about it, because when you live with a thing for so long and David had to go through the post-production on it, which is monumental in his films, because of the care he takes with the soundtrack and every element of it it’s hard to be objective about it.”
After an initial test screening with a hand-picked, 50 person audience, 25 minutes were cut, bringing the running time down to 130 minutes. “Some people didn’t quite understand things at first, especially in the longer version,” said Gifford. “My youngest son, who’s 21, got it all he’s amazing that way. Some people had some resistance, I think, just because they were trying to make sense out of it, but if you keep an open mind, the sense comes to you; you see what it is; and you can interpret it several ways.”
Despite its willful resistance toward offering easy answers, LOST HIGHWAY is never less than entertaining. For those unable to make sense out of it, the film resembles a bad dream about mysterious forces manipulating a hapless protagonist. “I think the fear of being out of control is a very real one that most people do have,” said Gifford. “Seeing a spirit or a presence or having—I don’t want to sound clinical—a psychotic episode, seeing the Mystery Man, whom nobody else can see, and having conversations with him this is all really an element of losing control. It’s all right there, and it’s not often that you would see it on the screen, especially in this way. There have been other examples of this thing, but never close to being filmed in this way.”
Of the critical reaction, Gifford said, “We went out on a limb with this thing and just let everything out. When you do that, people don’t generally like this sort of stuff, so you know you’re going to get slapped around to some extent. However, here we are, years later. It’s still shown all around the world all the time. There are books written about it and college courses devoted to it. So it provoked interest in some way.”
Ultimately, Gifford thinks viewers should not feel obligated to come to a definite interpretation of what the film means. “This has a lot to do with the idea of entering a movie theatre and surrendering, as you would unto a dream,” said the writer. “The idea is that the images and the sound wash over you, and you submit. Now if you don’t like what you’re seeing—if it’s a bad dream, as I’m sure LOST HIGHWAY was for a lot of people, especially the first forty minutes—you can get up and walk out, unlike having a bad dream while you’re asleep. But that’s the whole sense of seeing it in a movie theatre and seeing it in a correct way: entering that dream world and trying not to analyze it, trying not to think about it while we’re watching it. I know that’s a difficult thing for a lot of people to do, but it’s really crucial, especially when dealing with certain films, like Lynch’s. LOST HIGHWAY is certainly one of those. I think it’s a shame when a film is over-analyzed.”

Gangster's moll Alice (Patricia Arquette) has an affair with mechanica Pete (Balthazar Getty)

Gifford also prefers to avoid attaching labels to the film. Asked about the film’s noir styling and the script’s hard-boiled elements (such as the dangerous romance between young mechanic Pete Dayton and gangsters moll Alice Wakefield) he responds, “I don’t think it’s ‘hard-boiled at all,” adding, “Certainly, there are the iconic images, like the Patricia Arquette character, Alice Wakefield, resembling Barbara Stanwyck as she looked in DOUBLE INDEMNITY. So you can see how it fits, but I never thought of it as film noir, any more than I thought of it as science fiction or horror. It’s scary, but it’s psychologically frightening, and there isn’t much gore. I hope not everybody feels like they were in a bad dream. That certainly wasn’t my intention. I just don’t think of the word ‘bad’ in connection with it. It was sad more than bad.”
Gifford concluded that what he sees in the film “is a sadness really—terror, certainly—and it’s a kind of a metaphor for our time: a sort of fractured existence, of the pressures that people are laboring under at the very end of the 20th century. In other words, it’s not so easy to cope. I think that LOST HIGHWAY is really reflective of the time. There’s a big revolution in terms of the demand on your brain; it looks like there’ll be no end to it things are changing so fast it seems like you can’t keep up with it. I think, for us, it exists as a metaphor. I don’t want to presume to speak for David in that sense, but for me that’s how it feels.”
Copyright 1997 by Steve Biodrowski. This article originally appeared, in slightly altered form, in the April 1997 issue of Cinefantastique (Volume 28, Nuber 10).

Lost Highway (1997) – Film Review

click to purchase LOST HIGHWAYThis 1997 effort from David Lynch (co-written with Barry Gifford) is one of the director’s better efforts, but it failed to earn the same rapturous critical reception as BLUE VELVET. Reviewers seemed to see only a rehash of familiar Lynchian motifs, and ignored how expertly orchestrated and synthesized the themes had become in this film. Admittedly, LOST HIGHWAY may lack the shock value of BLUE VELVET (by this time, viewers were trained to expect weirdness from Lynch), but the film is every bit as fine a piece of work, and its demented darkness actually coallesces into a strange kind of giddy joy – not unlike the rush of adrenaline one feels after a brush with danger.
By the time he made this film, Lynch had become so well known as America’s premier Dark Dreamer that the mantle Continue reading “Lost Highway (1997) – Film Review”